George W. Bush does not appear to be a complicated man. In fact, with the exception of his apparently instant grasp of the complex legal abstractions attendant to Antonin Scalia’s appointing him president of the United States, Mr. Bush seems the very paragon of intellectual simplicity itself. “I see things in black and white,” he so readily declares. “I’m not about nuancing,” he adds, daily swelling America’s lexicon if not its coffers. How comforting a worldview his must be.
Well, however comforting it might be to Mr. Bush and his ilk, the rest of us should be troubled as hell by such statements emanating from a president of the United States. In fact, I would submit that his “good versus evil/you’re either with us or against us” homilies have a profoundly discomforting, even juvenile, quality to them. Yet we’ve watched silently these past two years of civil retrogression as he’s drawn conclusions supremely unworthy of any world leader, much less one who must reconcile diplomacy to awesome power, less yet again America’s president.
We the people seem not the least bit troubled by this apparently simple man’s simple words. Neither are we much concerned that the simple man seems so readily accepting of complex advice, advice fomented in minds perhaps not as simple as his own, minds whose motivations most Americans – to their credit – neither know nor understand.
Mr. Bush is also a man of obvious faith. Witness the zeal with which he promotes his constitutionally dubious “faith-based initiative” even as we prepare for mortal war.
Of course, faith can be a wonderful and healing force. It can also be blind, if not tempered with reason. For faith is a state of mind that cannot coexist with knowledge in context. To quote the American genius, Carl Sagan, “I’d rather know than believe.” When confronted with this particular black and white simplicity, Mr. Bush will too quickly opt for the latter. It’s easier to believe than it is to know – more convenient, less critically complex. Witness his indifference toward that critical basis of knowledge called evidence. Witness how readily he eschews it when it interferes with his decision-making. Such credulity is both troubling and, in the complex global framework of today, patently un-American. Rarely in the practice of American governance has that credulity been more blatantly manifest than it has been these past weeks in Bush’s approach to the matter of Iraq. The promotion of his agenda, through the compelling yet wholly circumstantial evidence provided the United Nations by the charismatic Colin Powell, was pure theater. For however compelling the secretary of state’s presentation might have been on the visceral level, it was wholly inconclusive on a critically objective basis. Its examples of “evidence” were wholly refutable in their ambiguity, its dramatics better suited to inspiring Hollywood actors to action than lethal armies. Such evidence as that, which Secretary Powell presented, would be dismissed as circumstantial by any honest judge in any American court of law. Neither would such ambiguities hold up against a reasonable jury in whose hands lay the fate of but a single, however suspect, human being in an American trial. But alas, this is international power ball, not an American trial, and however inconclusive the out-of-context sound bytes and meaningless snapshots presented by Colin Powell might appear to a trained and objective analyst (such as myself), they are apparently definitive enough for Mr. Bush and a majority of Americans to willingly, if not eagerly, sacrifice the lives of an as-yet incalculable number of innocents to arbitrary and merciless execution. I submit that had the same standard of evidence been applied to Mr. Bush’s insider trading allegations, or to his alleged dereliction of military duty during the Vietnam War, his government service might by now find itself limited to the manufacture of license plates.
But more to the point: Does Saddam have nuclear weapons?
He almost certainly does not.
Does he have chemical and biological weapons? He almost certainly does.
I pose this latter assertion not as conjecture, but as a matter of history supported by physical evidence. But the audit trail to that evidence might surprise you.
Quoting the president’s father, who, near the end of his term, said, “As you may remember from history, there was a lot of support for Iraq at that time [1980s] as a balance against a much more aggressive Iran, under Khomeini.”
A lot of support? How about $5 billion in intelligence, weapons and training?
Recorded history, not conjecture.
Quoting again, this time the man considered America’s foremost war historian, Gabriel Kolko: “The United States was Iraq’s functional ally and encouraged it to build and utilize a huge army with modern armor, aviation, artillery and chemical and biological weapons.” Saddam’s first recorded use of mustard gas, cyanide and nerve agents against humans began at that time. This begs the question: Was our $5 billion gift of weapons and training a coincidence or the proximate cause of Iraq’s use and subsequent knowledge of germs and gas?
Why was this historically recorded transaction never mentioned or referenced among the “evidence” the Bush administration seemed so desperate to produce? Let’s be simpler still. Whose spent nerve gas canisters did the weapons inspectors find in the sands of Iraq following the Gulf War and again so recently? Are they ours? Russia’s? Or the product of “evil” Iraqi science? These too represent direct evidence, physical evidence. We are told only of their presence, never of their provenance. Well, it takes no leap of imagination to conclude that the act of giving Saddam the wherewithal to use germs and poison gas is less inflammatory than when we gave him these capabilities. If not the material itself, we certainly offered Saddam access or, at the very least, tacit approval and huge sums of money to gain access to these weapons of mass destruction. But that we did so during the Iran-Contra years, the conservative movement’s Camelot years … the Ronald Reagan years, well, that makes public consideration of this stuff a Bush administration taboo. Now, I ask you, what sort of an American president, however reluctantly, chooses to suppress direct evidence while allowing his cabinet to compromise national security by revealing confidential sources in a misguided dog and pony show whose probative value will be argued by historians forever. Could the answer be a president who would compromise his citizens’ safety before risking the wrath of his faithful right-wing base, a wrath he’d surely incur by blaspheming its beatified former president, Ronald Reagan? Conjecture? My apologies.
President Bush (the current one), while expecting the United Nations to rationally consider its course, recently offered a characteristically simple mandate: “Show some backbone,” he admonished the ostensibly spineless world body. Act upon Iraq or be considered irrelevant was the Hobson’s choice he offered up, adding that the United States will “act” with or without the UN’s assent. By this simple dictate, the president himself rendered the world body irrelevant, nullifying in advance the implications of whatever consensus might derive from disciplined, civilized discourse – discourse born of empirical inspection. Instead, we and the world at large are subjected to Mr. Bush’s peevish ultimatums. We witness scene upon scene akin to an American prosecutor advising a global jury, “I’m gonna hang the suspect, no matter what you people decide.”
Last week he turned that same reducto-ad-absurdum logic upon the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. When European NATO member states did the very thing treaty organizations are formed to do – enforce the treaty and keep the peace – Mr. Bush declared them irrelevant.
Yesterday, he completed the circle. This president who ascended his high office one-half million votes short of a popular mandate, referred to the millions of anti-war demonstrators whose voices were raised in global unity this weekend, and by inference another 100 million less active but like-minded Americans, as – you guessed it – irrelevant.
But perhaps the most troubling insight into our president’s simplicity is simplicity itself. Despite that George W. Bush somehow commands the most terrible and destructive power ever poised upon our fragile planet by mortal man, he has not yet so much as learned its name (the power, that is – I must presume he knows the planet’s name). I, for one, cannot persuade myself that George Bush’s ignorance of the atom, which begins with the assumption of a “nuke-u-lus” at its center, does not extend to the implications of its misuse. Perhaps that, too, is irrelevant.
Make no mistake, this writer considers Saddam Hussein a festering pustule on the anus of humanity. I care not one wit for his well being or how horribly he might meet his end.
However, I neither earned nor did I contribute a lifetime of tax dollars expecting that, in the end, so much as a penny of my taxes would be used along with yours to incinerate children. But acquiescing to George W. Bush’s horrific demands in the absence of genuine, direct, supporting evidence of our enemy du jour’s capabilities or intent will mean just that. As one Iraqi diplomat said, upon considering the likely indiscriminate slaughter of his people, “America has smart bombs, but not smart leaders.”
Lest we as a nation become as simple as our American president’s diatribes, we the people must understand that through such inhumane and undisciplined use of its irresistible power, the United States – not simply the United Nations or the treaties we sign in good faith, but the United States itself, its people and the grand human experiment to which we ascribe and to whose principles our forbears committed their lives — will be rendered truly, not allegedly, irrelevant.
That would be the truest manifestation of spinelessness imaginable.